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Monday, March 16, 1998 Published at 07:50 GMT


The Maze - home to paramilitaries
image: [ Prisoners effectively control the blocks, government inquiry found ]
Prisoners effectively control the blocks, government inquiry found

The Maze prison, where David Keys was found murdered, houses some of Northern Ireland's most notorious prisoners and has been the focus of a number of security lapses.

The killing of the former Royal Irish Regiment soldier is the third major security lapse at the high-security jail in three months.

Billy Wright, the Loyalist Volunteer Force leader, was shot dead just after Christmas by members of the Irish National Liberation Army who were housed in the same H-block.

On December 10, the IRA killer Liam Averill escaped dressed as a woman. Sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of two Protestants shortly before the IRA announced its 1994 ceasefire, he was smuggled out of prison with a group of women and children attending a Christmas party.

A hard-hitting report on the escape and murder, compiled by Martin Narey, director of prison regimes in England and Wales, will be published this month.

Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam already has the results.

Sir David Ramsbotham, chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales, arrives next Monday to begin a full inspection of the jail.

In March, a 40ft tunnel seven feet underground, fitted with electric lighting, was found leading from H-block 7, where IRA inmates are held. It had breached the block's perimeter wall and was 80ft short of the outside wall.

[ image: Maze Prison officers have been murdered]
Maze Prison officers have been murdered
A government inquiry into the incident found that the paramilitaries controlled the blocks.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, the then Northern Ireland Secretary, admitted that, through intimidation, paramilitary prisoners had over a number of years "in effect gained control within the wings to which they were confined."

He added: "Recently searches have been carried out only infrequently." It was reported then that security would be tightened.

Relaxed regime

There are still reports that behind the walls and wire fences, hundreds of IRA and Loyalist terrorists enjoy a relaxed regime where cells are unlocked 24 hours a day and they talk freely on mobile phones.

Prison officers are said to face death threats and constant intimidation. More than 20 warders, most of them from the Maze, have been murdered during the Troubles, sometimes after they were recognised by former prisoners.

Dirty protests

The prison was the scene of the so-called dirty protests in the 1970s, when IRA prisoners refused to wash, wore only blankets and smeared their own excrement on cell walls.

In 1981, Bobby Sands and nine other Republican inmates starved themselves to death in hunger strikes in protest at being ordered to wear prison uniform.

Two years later, 38 IRA prisoners staged a mass breakout - the UK's biggest jailbreak.

In his report into the escape, Sir James Hennessy, then Chief Inspector of Prisons, concluded that only "inhuman and unacceptable methods" could guarantee absolute security.

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